Confinement

Miles K

What little light there was in the subterranean dungeon, miles under the now foreign surface reflected off of Dedrick's pick axe as it came down from its overhead position, crashing into the large stone before his dirt covered, ingrown toenail laced feet. He used to have shoes, but poor results lead to poor rewards, the foremen said. Truthfully, they could hardly be classified as shoes. They were just strips of fabric, probably burlap, wrapped around his feet, tied semi-secure at the ankle with a piece of thin rope, but something was always better than nothing.

When Dedrick finally conquered the stone, he was less than surprised to see nothing in the rubble before him, the rock he had worked tirelessly to break turned into, more rock. At one point this was likely frustrating for Dedrick, but there were plenty of other lumps of earth in the underground chamber which needed tenderizing. Even if Dedrick found nothing of value, he was still guaranteed one ration for the day. Those were the rules in the pit, there wasn't enough food to go around, as the laborers were often reminded, so they were given just enough to keep them in working order for the day.

Dedrick sighed, looking down at his consistently withering away body, it had been far too long since he had eaten an appropriate amount, and his ribs were starting to press tightly against his shrinking skin in a sign of malnutrition. One ration a day was enough, for a child or a woman, maybe for a small man, but it was certainly not enough for someone forced to perform hard labor for twelve grueling hours a day. Dedrick looked up to the uneven stone walls for a moment, examining the large sign posted for all workers to see, it read:

Copper- 30 rations

Silver- 100 rations

Gold- Freedom

Clearly, it was meant to inspire some semblance of hope, but the list might as well have not existed, Dedrick had been a worker in the pits for almost five years, a rather long tenure in his line of work. Never had he seen anyone find any gold or silver, he had heard about someone finding silver, but stories were common, and often embellished in the pit. Dedrick had however seen copper, once.

He remembered the look on Fretigs face when the mildly toxic particles in the air finally settled, revealing a dull vein of copper. Happy faces aren't common in the mines, so they aren't something easily forgotten. But, Fretigs story wasn't a happy one, he lasted two, maybe three days before he was killed for his rations. The foundation only requisitioned enough foremen to have one for every fifty workers, so if someone wanted you dead, the foremen were no help. Dedricks reminiscing came to a halt with the cracking of a whip, followed by the searing pain of thin, tightly bound leather colliding into the coarse, scarred flesh of his back. "Move along slave" a foreman spoke. Dedrick went back to work with newly instilled vigor, walking down a newly excavated tunnel, looking for a promising boulder to toil away at for some time.

Along the way Dedrick passed some acquaintances along the way, in other circumstances perhaps he would consider them friends, however, friendships required one thing completely absent from the pit, trust. He nodded his head at Nile, who was struggling to aim his axe with one arm, missing the mark half of the time. The vacant arm had been removed from him weeks ago when he was caught stealing rations. Crime was not tolerated by the foundation, and they made sure everyone knew. As Dedrick dove deeper into the tunnel his field of vision was intruded upon by the unusually large figure of Ox, a fitting name for a man as physically imposing as he. His back consisted entirely of scar tissue, likely from his years of failed, but admirable, resistance. The whipping clearly didn't have much of an impact on the moral of Ox, as he had a crude iron clasp running through each of his now bloated ankles, allowing him to be easily chained to his work space. The foreman didn't shy away from cruelty, they embraced it, doing whatever necessary to maintain their tight control of the mine.

Dedrick approached the end of the tunnel, when an unusually shaped rock caught his eye. It was almost a perfect sphere, a lantern on the wall reflected light off of its rounded surface. Dedrick felt this rock calling him, he wasn't sure why, but he knew this was the one that would finally, after five years, yield him something of value. He gripped the weathered-thin handle of his pick tightly, his blister coated hands slowly secreted a combination of blood and puss down the wood, as he mustered up the energy to raise the tool above his head. After a moment of hesitation and calculation, Dedrick brought the pick-axe down with all his strength. A small dent appeared, but that was all. Again he readied the axe north of his scalp, breathing out as he brought it down onto the orb, the dent expanded, into a narrow crack. Dedrick raised the axe once more, preparing for a final energy laden strike, aiming directly for the fissure he had just created. Letting out a loud grunt, he cast down the pick like he was born to perform this very task. A loud thud sounded twice in succession, as two half circle stones slid to the ground. The widest smile ever seen in the history of the pit forced itself onto Dedricks's face, brightly painted yellow by the overpowering light exuding from what he had just unearthed.